New ways of telling stories

Chloe Choppen
Chloe Choppen6th February 2020
We recently launched our new report Podcasts: where next? In the audience was Catherine Raynor, co-founder of Mile 91, a storytelling agency for charities and changemakers that provides both production and training services. She was previously Head of Media at VSO and during that time was a Trustee of IBT. We asked Catherine to give us her key takeaways from the report.

If someone told you there was a way to tell stories that didn’t mean squeezing everything into two minutes, was possible to produce on a low budget and that would result in more than half your audience researching more about what they’d learnt, would you be interested in knowing what that was? I assume your answer is yes.

These are just some of the things I learnt at the launch of Podcasts: where next? I think we’ve all been to events where we come out with a freshly clear inbox and a report that eventually finds its way into the recycling. This is not one of them and I would really encourage any charity storyteller, regardless of whether you work for an international organisation, to read this report because it is packed full of really fascinating insight and practical advice that is transferable to any sector.

The panel event, hosted by Channel 4 and chaired by Krishnam Guru-Murthy, was a rich, varied and at times funny conversation. Here are my top ten takeaways:

 

1. The market is booming

In 2019 one in eight adults listened to a podcast at least once a week, double the number just five years earlier. But the stat that blew my mind is that in the 15-24 age group podcast downloads surpassed music downloads for the first time in 2019. For charities desperately trying to reach younger audiences this is massive news.

 

2. They’re the most engaged audiences in town

68% of audiences listen to the entire episode they’ve downloaded and with 91% listening alone you really do have a captive audience. 67% of listeners go on to discuss a topic with family and friends and 52% will research more about the topic.

 

3. Longer is better

In an era when a three minute film is the ‘long’ version and an in-depth written story tops out at about 500 words, podcasts are almost inconceivably luxurious in the opportunity they offer. But 20 minutes is seen as the best digestible length.

 

4. You can be nuanced

The longer length means you can explore an issue or a story in more length, unpicking back stories and discussing the complexities of an issue. People who listen to podcasts are an interested audience who are actively seeking information so give it to them

 

5. Don’t be boring

Actively seeking information is not an invitation to be lectured to. Podcasts are still entertainment, so find creative ways to broach your issues. One of the panellists, Sarah King, was from the Institute of Development Studies and their podcast is called Between the Lines which follows the book group model, centring each episode on a different book.

 

6. Ditch your talking heads

Podcasts are not the place for clipped rehearsed soundbites. We’ve all turned off the radio when a slick overly trained spokesperson is spouting key messages and that’s just a one minute interview. Podcasts are intimate experiences and need engaging and authentic voices who will talk freely and openly.

 

7. Podcasts are good for sex

A comment that got a ripple of laughter from the audience, but the point was serious: podcasts allow you to liberate issues and conversations that may not work for radio or the TV sofa shows.

 

8. Commitment is needed

Chucking out one podcast and expecting it to be a success is not going to work. Commitment and consistency is needed and you have to invest time in discoverability. Whether you go for an interview, round table discussion or narrative format, it will take time to grow your audience so you need to commit to a series or a regular pattern of new episodes.

 

9. Content is evergreen

Although it will take time to build your audience old episodes will always be there (if you want them to be) and so, when you capture new audiences, they will be able to rummage around in your archives.

 

10. They are not expensive

Podcasts do not need to be big budget endeavours. Taking your audiences to communities and countries they may not otherwise visit is an opportunity but it is not the only way. With the right voices you can produce perfectly good podcasts in a quiet room and with a good quality microphone.

 

These are just some of my takeaways but the report is full of lots more interesting insight plus advice on hosting platforms and how to pitch stories to existing podcast. Do have a read.

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